Education professor goes back to elementary school
RELEASED: Nov. 2, 2006
DANVILLE, KY—For many Centre professors, a sabbatical is a time to step away from the day-to-day concerns of teaching academically challenging courses and focus concentrated attention on areas of special interest: to research, write, travel, gain perspective or simply to recharge their batteries in order to bring new energy into the classroom.
But Donna Plummer, associate professor of education, chose to use her sabbatical during 2006 to dive right back into the classroom by working at Toliver Elementary here in Danville.
"I decided to work at Toliver during my sabbatical because I'd been out of the K-12 classroom for twelve years," Plummer says. "I felt that I needed to spend quality time with children and teachers in order to increase my credibility with the Centre students in my education courses."
Although her sabbatical didn’t begin until Centre’s three-week CentreTerm in January 2006, Plummer did a great deal of preparation throughout the fall of 2005.
She began attending professional development summer sessions, going on home visits with teachers, helping teachers prepare for the beginning of school, and attending classes until fall classes began at Centre.
With the help of faculty and staff at Toliver, Plummer decided to pursue a project involving elementary students’ career interests. Vanessa Shepperson '06, a third-grade teacher at Junction City Elementary in Boyle County, helped Plummer interview first and fifth graders about what they want to be when they grow up.
"The work she did there is extremely important," Shepperson says. "Many children aren't exposed to enough career information at a young age, especially in the area of science. Most of the children aspired to be video game designers, football players or movie stars. The attempt was to expose those students to more information about science-based careers over the course of the school year and see if their personal career choices changed."
After Centre's winter break in 2006, Plummer begin going to Toliver Elementary every day. While there, she did everything Toliver's regular classroom teachers do.
"I arrived when the teachers did, assisted with small-group instruction, did bathroom patrol and bus duty, attended faculty and other meetings and became a part of the Toliver community," she says.
She also worked daily in the fifth-grade class taught by John Erwin ’87 during March, April and May, and in Carol Reynolds' first-grade classes during January and February.
"Donna is such a rapid organizer, a very efficient person," Reynolds says. "I really appreciated her help in organizing the many intricate components of our first grade math and reading curriculum. She enjoyed working with small groups and individuals that enabled them to have instruction targeted to their specific needs.
"I hope Donna feels she truly impacted some of our children who needed special attention, whose self-esteem and academic performance needed a little boost. The children looked forward to seeing her daily and missed her when she moved on to fifth grade.
"I believe Donna's experience will help her [instruct] future educators. Anyone coming from a college setting to first grade experiences an adjustment. Concepts we adults take for granted are often brand new ideas to six-year-olds. The attention span, listening comprehension and spelling abilities are often surprising to visitors," Reynolds says.
In April, Plummer re-interviewed each first- and fifth-grade student to determine how their career aspirations had changed.
"Although my data collected on career aspirations didn't result in any great revelations, I did decide to continue this work," Plummer says. "I interviewed the second grade students this year to see how their aspirations changed from the first grade. I hope to continue interviewing the children through the fifth grade year. I have also had a manuscript, accepted by Science and Children, soliciting classroom teachers to collect career aspirations interview data on their elementary students."
The time spent at Toliver provided Plummer with additional insights into the workings of the elementary school, and she kept a daily journal from which she has developed 40 case studies to use in her education classes.
This fall she continues to work with the first grade class by participating in the reading workshop twice a week.
"During my sabbatical it was quite evident that teachers and children can involve community members in myriad ways," she says.
Now Plummer has something new to hang beside her master’s and doctoral diplomas."Toliver made me an honorary faculty member at the fifth-grade graduation," she says. "I have the framed certificate hanging in my office!"
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